PHILADELPHIA - An Allentown-based bus company is disputing a former mechanic's
wrongful discharge suit, saying his firing cannot be characterized as retaliation because he did not file an official complaint over alleged safety violations.
According to a memorandum dated Jan. 26 and attached to FirstStudent's motion to dismiss the complaint filed by Keith Bryfogle in the Lehigh County Court of Common Pleas in October, the former employee only sent a letter with his concerns to management six months before his termination.
The memorandum says that the Pennsylvania Motor Vehicle Code requires the filing of an official complaint in order to protect the employee from retaliation, and that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has held that internal communications do not qualify under Meyer v. Community College of Beaver County.
The argument, filed by Sarah Fask of Littler Mendelson, states that Bryfogle never alleges that he filed a complaint, but rather sent a good faith letter to his employer. According to the memorandum, each mention of the word "complaint" in the Pennsylvania Motor Vehicle Code reflects state action or legal recourse, not an informal complaint to a supervisor.
"The Motor Vehicle Code is devoid of any mention of a 'complaint' constituting something similar to a 'letter' or 'good faith report' to one's employer," the memorandum says. "Bryfogle's action, therefore, falls outside the parameters of the statute."
Bryfogle, of Allentown, seeks compensatory and punitive damages, including lost pay and benefits, for two counts of whistleblower retaliation and wrongful discharge against First Student, Inc., an international company headquartered in the United Kingdom with locations throughout the U.S.
According to the original complaint, Bryfogle, a certified inspection technician, worked as lead mechanic for the Allentown location, providing regular maintenance for the school buses and occasionally performing as a bus driver.
The claim says that Bryfogle sent a letter of concern in December 2013 to his supervisors, documenting what he felt were numerous dangerous conditions with the vehicles and staffing policies.
According to the complaint, Bryfogle told management that many of the buses had not received timely oil changes or other routine maintenance procedures, were uninspected and being operated on by mechanics at the end of an entire work shift who were too tired to properly perform their duties.
According to the complaint, these conditions continued to exist through the rest of the school year. In July, the claim says, Bryfogle was terminated from First Student based on false allegations pertaining to another matter not detailed in the complaint.
Bryfogle claims that the reasons given by the defendants for his firing are based on false pretenses and that his termination was in retaliation for his reporting of the unsafe conditions.
“The defendants discharged and retaliated against [Bryfogle] because he made a good faith report to the employer about an instance of violation of a commercial motor vehicle safety rule or regulation,” the complaint says.